Smith’s Verdict: ***1/2
Reviewed by Tanner Smith
“Have you heard about this videotape that kills you when you watch it?”
Yes, “The Ring” is about a VHS tape that brings certain death to those who view it. After you’ve been subjected to many disturbing images, the telephone rings. When you answer it, you’re told you have seven days to live.
There are many horror films in which so much disturbing, unnerving imagery has been subjected to us and when it’s over, we’re all relieved to be in the real world again, alive and well. But “The Ring” actually suggests that the mere act of watching this weirdness can kill you. Already, I like this horror film for that concept.
“The Ring,” based on the Japanese horror film “Ringu,” is one of the scariest movies I’ve ever seen. It has an atmosphere that can hardly find comparison; it’s spooky in all the right parts; it takes you on an intriguing mystery that answers some questions but not all, so that you can fill in some of the blanks yourself after you’ve seen it; and it has a great share of effectively scary moments that are tense and very frightening.
After the cursed tape has taken the life of a teenage girl (in a very creepy prologue) seven days after she’s watched it, the late girl’s aunt, reporter Rachel Keller (Naomi Watts), decides to look further into her reasons for dying. After hearing about the tape from high-school gossip and discovering that the girl’s three friends have died the same night that she did (presumably seeing the tape as well), Rachel happens upon the tape and decides to watch it, only to seal her doom.
With seven days and counting (as titles inform us of the countdown), Rachel believes that something supernatural is afoot here and decides to bring in her ex-boyfriend Noah (Martin Henderson), a video geek, to help figure this out. Together, they decide to view the images as a series of clues leading to the tape’s origins and set out to solve the puzzle before seven days are up. Things get even worse when Rachel’s eight-year-old son, Aidan (David Dorfman), watches the tape as well, sealing his fate as well.
The plot thickens as Rachel and Noah are brought to research the life of a woman whose daughter may be connected to the surrealism of it all, and are also brought to the place it originated where they find more answers. The fun thing about “The Ring” is that with all the images that stay in your head no matter how hard to try to forget about them (it’s an effectively executed, creepy show of images on that tape), you find yourself trying to figure out all this as the characters are. There’s hardly an instant when you’re ahead of the characters in solving this puzzle. And it’s fascinating to watch each new development continue to be thrown into the mix, while it’s also creepy at the same time because it’s more unnerving as the mystery grows and comes full-circle.
“The Ring” is great to look at. With nifty camerawork, creepy visuals, and an effectively grim tone, this is a very well-made ghost story. And somehow, that it takes place in Seattle which is mostly dark and gloomy makes it all the more effective.
Critics are rather split about the twist-ending, but I didn’t have a problem with it. Sure, it brings more answers that I would have liked to have come up with myself, but on the other hand, it is quite intriguing to see some version of a possible answer. And let’s face it—it’s here to give us the “money-scare,” the “money-shot” that every horror film must have in order to give audiences nightmares for days, if not weeks. “The Ring” has a hell of a good scare at that point. If everything else was a whimper, this ending was a scream. And I liked that the ending came an unexpected time, when it seemed as if everything was going to be all right.
And once again, there are as many questions that arise as there are answers that are revealed. I didn’t mind so much, because I was caught up in this mystery and wanted a few things to figure out for myself.
Naomi Watts makes for an appealing heroine—not only beautiful, but also resourceful and bright and caring for those around her. I also liked that it’s a reporter that is the protagonist of this ghost story, because she has that gut feeling to go out and investigate the strangeness that’s going on here. (Though, whether or not she actually does write this story for the Seattle Post is open to wonder.) Martin Henderson is good as her partner, and he and Watts share convincing chemistry as their relationship mends through this experience (of course). Brian Cox has a memorably creepy cameo appearance as a farmer that knows too much and is hesitant to tell.
Not everything about “The Ring” works, however. My main problem with the film is the character of Aidan. One thing I neglected to mention is that Aidan is actually psychic. He can see the same kind of surreal imagery that Rachel is trying to figure out. The problem I have with this kid is that he’s just too creepy, and with no emotional involvement to balance anything out. This kid doesn’t act like a regular kid—he acts like a carbon copy of the kid in “The Sixth Sense.” There’s never a sense that he cares for anything in the slightest; so why should I care if the kid lives?
And there are some little things that bugged me a bit, but they’re mostly nitpicks, such as why is the ghost able to call via telephone and how the lid of a well can create a ring that can be seen from inside? But I guess this is the kind of film where you don’t ask such questions and just be wrapped in the atmosphere and mystery of “The Ring.” There are many standout moments that unnerve, others that frighten, and others that inspire. That is why this is one of the most effective supernatural horror films I’ve ever seen.